If you’re familiar with HBO’s Game of Thrones, you’ll know the significance of the line ‘Winter is coming’ - and if you aren’t, well it’s probably missing the humour but it comes round every year, and every year some of us really dread it (as did the Night's Watch). Mornings and evenings start getting darker, it’s colder and usually damper outside, and the sun’s not around as much to brighten our days.
Does the winter weather affect how you feel?
It can be a bit of a dreary time, and for many of us it can have huge effects on our mood! Research by The Weather Channel® and YouGov found that over half (57%) of adults in the UK say their overall mood is worse in winter months compared to the summer, and 29% of us struggle with the winter blues. For 8% the temperature changes and shorter days can signal the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD which is a type of depression that is experienced throughout autumn and winter that tends to melt away with the sun’s return by spring.
Now, you might be familiar with the ‘winter blues’ yourself, a milder version of SAD that leaves us feeling a bit flat, lethargic and less enthusiastic about life, whereas SAD can make it difficult to function as usual - like depression. Both develop in the autumn and winter because of the shorter daylight hours and less sunlight.
Our brains, neurotransmitters and hormones are affected by the amount of sunlight we are exposed to, and the lack of it during winter knocks our body clocks off balance, making us feel more tired earlier in the day. That reduced sunlight also causes our serotonin (responsible for mood regulation) levels to drop and our melatonin (that regulates our sleep-wake cycles) levels go askew, further contributing to those changes in mood and sleep many of us are so familiar with.
Get your coat… it’s cold!
The cold and dark can really dampen our lifestyles, it can be harder to get out of bed, and it can feel like we have less time. Don’t you just love putting on a massive duffle coat to go out, knowing that as soon as you step inside anywhere sweat beads will start forming and there’s nowhere to store said coat? Nope, us neither. Ah, winter.
Whether you experience SAD, struggle with it’s milder cousin the winter blues, or simply don’t care for the chilly temps and wetter weather, coping in the winter can be a challenge.
So, here are 5 top tips from our resident Life Coach, Grace McMahon, to maintain positivity and feel better in the winter:
1. Vitamin D3 supplements
Although there’s a lot to be said for the UK summer, the vitamin D that we can lap up from the sun is great for protecting our mental health. Try taking vitamin D3 supplements alongside a balanced diet in the winter months to make up for the lost sunshine. It might even give us a little boost and a smile through chattering teeth.
2. Don’t just stay inside
When it’s cold, rainy, or windy, going outside can feel like the last thing we want to do right? But that fresh air, albeit crisper and icier, is still great for clearing the mind, and can be super helpful in protecting our mental health. Try shorter bursts in the fresh air, brisker walks through the park, and a hot drink to stop your fingers falling off.
3. Balance nutrition
Colder temperatures can leave us reaching for the sweeter and more indulgent foods, especially when we’re feeling more tired and lethargic. There’s no problem with indulging (at any time of year) but balance these with nutritious meals too. Things like stews and soups can be packed with veg while being tasty and warming, and eating nutrient-packed foods protects our brains functioning helping us feel better able to cope with daily life.
4. Connect with others
Don’t let the cold hold you back from socialising. After lockdowns we’re probably quite familiar with how isolation can make us feel, so spend time with people (even if it’s wrapped up on the sofa), facetime friends and family, or go for walks with others to make getting outside that bit more bearable.
5. Get cosy and comfy
The bonus of colder months is wrapping up warm; scarves, big jumpers, fluffy socks, festive coffees, right? Feeling good in ourselves really helps to protect our mental health. We’re more likely to feel better in ourselves if we’re comfortable, warm enough, cosy and settled. We don’t have to spend a fortune updating our wardrobes or home decor. Some simple staples, like thicker blankets on the sofa or our favourite cardigan, can actually really help us to find comfort in winter and in ourselves.
Seasonal greeting: for those of us who do experience SAD it can be really difficult to feel able to function as usual, so it’s important to seek support to give us that helping hand. If you’re concerned about your mental health, speak to your GP or health professional to discuss your options for support. Winter is coming, but at least the White Walkers aren’t!